Local knowledge (LK) is increasingly recognized as central to the dynamics of climate change adaptation, but few researchers have explicitly incorporated LK into adaptation frameworks or empirical field research; nor have they taken the multidimensional and dynamic character of LK into account. Much existing climate change research has focused on regional and national level adaptation strategies, while micro-scale adaptation, and the local knowledge on which it is based, represent an understudied dimension. Also missing is a theorization of the difficulties and opportunities of integrating local knowledge into the discourse of project planning and policy on an equal footing with external specialist knowledge.
Apart from its large number of composite domains and their necessary cross connections and interdependencies, there are other important characteristics of LK. First, it is not monolithic, but quite heterogeneous, gendered, and differentiated in ways that often produce locally acknowledged expertise. Secondly, while there may be local words and expressions to describe it, LK is not necessarily verbalized publicly – that is explicitly recognized as LK, discussed, debated, or problematized. It may be implicit or tacit in practices that are learned through kinship and other social networks within a locality. Thirdly, it is not isolated or self-isolating from external knowledge and influences.
Elements of external specialist knowledge available in the local institutional environment may be selectively incorporated and even modified. Another aspect of this permeability and exposure to external influences is the potential that environmental change or development-induced displacement could lead to a very different bio-physical setting and may render prior LK less effective. This research project’s conceptual framework assumes complex interactions between local and external-specialist knowledge systems that impact socio-geographic adaptive capacity.